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39 posts from October 2009

October 31, 2009

Micheletti adviser says Zelaya's not coming back

Yesterday, I expressed skepticism that the so-called breakthrough agreement to end coup-induced constitutional crisis in Honduras would actually bring deposed President Mel Zelaya back to power. 

An adviser to the leader of the coup regime basically admitted to Bloomberg that the prospect of a power-sharing government is just a public relations ploy.

Oct. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya won’t be restored to office under an accord that leaves the decision on his return to lawmakers, a vice-president of the Congress said.

“Zelaya won’t be restored,” Marcia Facusse de Villeda, an adviser to acting President Roberto Micheletti, said in a phone interview today, “But just by signing this agreement we already have the recognition of the international community for the elections.” [Bloomberg]

Via Greg Grandin in the Nation.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

WASHINGTON--Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) speaking at the Made In America: Building the New Economy.

Brown said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to include a public option in the health care bill because of what he called the inside/outside strategy: progressive senators badgering Reid "inside," supported by activists on the outside.

October 30, 2009

Honduras deal: Breakthrough or fig leaf?

Real Eyes Realize Real Lies, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

The media are jubilant because the State Department has finally brokered a deal to "resolve" the standoff in Honduras between the ruling junta and ousted President Mel Zelaya. The accord between Zelaya and self-proclaimed president Roberto Micheletti is supposed to end the standoff in the capital city of Tegucigalpa where Zelaya has been holed up in the Brazilian embassy since sneaking back into the country last month.

To read the English language media, you'd swear that Zelaya's triumphant return is imminent. That seems highly unlikely. If congress ratifies the deal, the accord would create something called a power sharing government. But according to Democracy Now! the document doesn't spell out how the power would be shared. 

I predict that congress will not reinstate Zelaya. The real purpose of the vote is to allow the U.S. to gracefully back off from its earlier observation that the Micheletti regime is illegitimate. Realistically, it looks like Washington cajoled the self-satisfied Micheletti and the desperate Zelaya into signing a deal to provide a fig leaf for the coup.

Why does it seem unlikely that congress will reinstate Zelaya? Recall that Micheletti's last real job before proclaiming himself president was as the leader of the Honduran congress. As he himself noted in an Wall Street Journal op/ed, congress voted overwhelmingly to back Micheletti's putsch and remove Zelaya in the first place. 

It's possible that congress will want to ratify the power-sharing deal in order to legitimize the upcoming elections in the eyes of the world, but they didn't care about world opinion when they backed the coup in the first place. Furthermore, the U.S. has already show itself unwilling to impose real consequences on the junta. 

Media reports stress that Zelaya preferred to let congress decide. The other option was to give the Supreme Court the final say. Zelaya seems to think he has a better chance than Congress than he would if the matter were left up to the Supreme Court, which also colluded in his ouster. The Supreme Court has already ruled that Zelaya forfeited his presidency by backing a non-binding referendum on reforming the constitution. (Cf. Prof. Gary Weeks, the Juan Cole of Latin America, for more details about why that argument is transparently bogus.) 

Note that under the deal, the Supreme Court would still have some input into whether Zelaya wold actually be reinstated--a body that has already ruled that Zelaya forfeited his presidency. 

Why would Zelaya agree to such a deal? Keep in mind that he's not exactly negotiating from  position of strength. Actually, he's trapped in an embassy surrounded by armed guards. His only hope of regaining power was to provoke a standoff that would focus international pressure on the Micheletti regime. Now, the U.S. is losing patience with the embassy circus in Tegucigalpa and it doesn't seem prepared to back up its pro-democracy rhetoric with any real consequences that might induce Micheletti to relinquish power. The U.S. has immense sway with Honduras through millions of dollars worth of trade and aid. Honduras is one of the poorer countries in the Western Hemisphere and the U.S. is its best customer.

When the junta seized power, the world immediately and forcefully condemned the coup, the first military takeover of its kind in Latin America in years. The United States, the United Nations, and the Organization of American States denounced the ouster. President Obama called the overthrow "illegal" and said it set a "terrible precedent."

Under the circumstances, the world couldn't very well acknowledge as legitimate the upcoming presidential elections, set for Nov 29, unless Zelaya were restored to power.

How could an illegitimate regime hold legitimate elections? The even coup prompted the UN to withdraw promised election aid to Honduras on the grounds that to oversee a vote under Micheletti would legitimize a farce.

Elections under Micheletti can not be legitimate because, in addition to taking power illegally, the regime has been condemned by independent human rights monitors for media censorship, arbitrary detention, torture, and murder. This week, eight members of Congress urged President Obama to break the silence on human rights abuses in Honduras.

No date has been set for the reinstatement vote. In theory, the opposition could filibuster the vote to delay it until after the elections.

One way or another Hondurans will likely go to the polls with the brutal and repressive Micheletti regime firmly in place.

The state department is patting itself on the back and praising the negotiators as "heroes of democracy." Heroes of hypocrisy is more like it. Obama's top envoy to Honduras, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Tom Shannon wants to be confirmed as Ambassador to Brazil already--but jet-setting coup-booster Sen Jim DeMint (R-SC) has a hold on Shannon's nomination. Perhaps Shannon's desire to sip caipirinhas in Rio eclipsed his love of democracy.

The U.S. Economy in Microcosm

BROOKLYN--Captured with my camera phone.

October 29, 2009

U.S. Steel CEO John Surma & United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard

WASHINGTON (New Economy Conf)--The CEO of U.S. Steel and the head of the United Steelworkers Union.

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard

WASHINGTON (New Economy Conf)--United Steelworkers Pres Leo Gerard: "We're not against trade and we're not luddites, but we really are tired of getting screwed."

October 28, 2009

Joe Lieberman and the opt-out revolution

Harry Reid promises a trigger-free public option and less than 24 hours later Joe Lieberman threatens to sabotage health reform by supporting a Republican filibuster. Is it just a negotiating ploy, or is he setting himself up to be the Reform Killer in the hopes of garnering GOP support for his reelection bid?

Off to CAF's New Economy Conference


I'm off to the Building the New Economy conference, which kicks off tomorrow in DC.

Scott Paul, the president of the American Alliance for Manufacturing summarizes some of the issues on his mind ahead of the conference:

Ahead of the Oct. 29 'Building the New Economy' conference in Washington, one can state the obvious: something has gone terribly wrong with the U.S. economy. But chalking up the blame to a few bad apples on Wall Street and their risky financial instruments, and responding by simply providing appropriate regulation in the financial services sector, will ultimately be unsatisfying. There are much deeper, structural issues which must be urgently addressed. 

It stands to reason that America needs to produce things of value in order to assure its continued prosperity and security. I'm still weighing the arguments about what role manufacturing should play in that equation. 

Obviously, we shouldn't fall into the trap of propping up heavy manufacturing for heavy manufacturing's sake. But it's impossible to deny that manufacturing has historically been a source of good, skilled jobs.

I'm excited to learn more about green manufacturing jobs. We're going to have to spend a lot of money to become more fuel efficient and less polluting. Someone will have to make the solar panels and wind turbines. Why not Americans?

October 27, 2009

Lobbyist indicted for violating Sudan sanctions

A former State Department official who forged a lucrative career lobbying for African regimes with dismal human rights records has been indicted for violating sanctions against the government of Sudan.

Federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against a Washington, D.C. lobbyist today for allegedly violating sanctions against the government of Sudan.

According to the Justice Department, Robert Cabelly, a former state department official and managing director of C/R International, did work for the Sudanese without permission from the U.S. government. The firm allegedly brokered business contracts for the country, and gave it “sensitive” U.S. government information.

The Justice Department says Cabelly was also involved with the Sudanese oil industry, and was being paid by both the country’s government and by a foreign oil company. He allegedly directed the company to deposit a $180,000 payment in an offshore account in the Cook Islands in an attempt to launder the funds. [Blog of the Legal Times]

Cabelly's main job was to diffuse global outrage over the genocide in Darfur.

As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did grant Cabelly a special waiver to lobby for Sudan, despite the sanctions. However the state alleges that he lobbied without permission between 2005 and 2007 and committed other serious infractions in his business with government and business interests in Sudan.

October 26, 2009

OSHA: Nevada is a Good Place to be a Bad Boss

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) last week issued a scathing indictment of Nevada's OSHA program. Nevada has a well-deserved reputation for being a dangerous place to work. Last year, a spate of construction deaths on the Las Vegas Strip prompted a congressional hearing. The Las Vegas Sun won this year's public service Pulitzer for exposing the carnage.

Nevada inspectors told federal investigators that their superiors pressured them not to write up employers for willful violations of safety laws. Willful violations are the most serious category of infraction. Federal investigators found that NOSHA only issued one willful violation in the course of 23 fatality probes--even though at least one of the employers (Boyd Gaming Corp.) had previously been cited for the same hazards on other sites in the state, which legally should have made Boyd a willful violator by definition.

The House Education Labor and Pensions Committee is holding a hearing on the report on Thursday. I hope the committee asks some tough questions about why these problems exist. The failures are so grave and systematic that I have to wonder whether corruption is afoot. Many of the worst offenders are powerful casino interests, a contingency known to donate lavishly to both Democrats and Republicans.